It is for each chief officer of police to determine the most suitable methods of policing for rural areas in his force. Many forces are now beginning to benefit from the further increases in manpower and resources which were announced earlier this year.
I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for that reply. In view of the enormous increase in spending on the police force under this Government, would he not consider it a serious error if 40 rural police stations in north Wales were to close?
It is for each chief constable to use the resources available to him as he thinks fit. I am puzzled by the situation in north Wales, as I have received no requests from the police authority for an increase in manpower. I notice that at the end of September the authority was 40 under strength. It is the job of the police authority to recruit up to strength, and if it puts in a request for more manpower, obviously I will consider that request alongside others.
Is the Home Secretary aware that there is considerable consternation in north Wales at the threatened closure of rural police stations? The population of the towns and villages want to see a police officer on foot—as part of the community—and not someone in a car who spends half an hour whizzing in and out of those communities. Will he remind the local police force of this?
It is certainly part of the aim of the increases I am authorising that more police officers should be out and about in the villages and on the streets. I have not only authorised these increases, but I have made it easier for all police authorities, including north Wales, to take sensible decisions about policing by increasing to 51 per cent. the rate of police grant.
Bearing in mind the Government's highly successful incentives to expand the role of special constables and their recruitment, will my right hon. Friend look at ways in which the attraction of serving in the special constabulary could be expanded in rural areas? That would enable the return of more policemen on the beat represented by citizens who will serve their community without renumeration.
Yes. We are always on the alert for ways of encouraging the special constabulary. After a period as it were, on a plateau, I am glad to see that the numbers are beginning to pick up, and that is very important.
Is it not a rather strange state of affairs that the Tory Goverment seem to have some difficulty in getting police into the rural areas, as shown by questions asked by Conservative Members, yet during 1984–85 the Government filled all the pit lanes they could find in almost every coalfield in Britain with police? At the present time there are about 2,000 police down there in Wapping who could be used in rural areas. Is it not ironic that this Tory Government are using 2,000 police officers down at Wapping to get out the News of the World?
Everyone in their senses would much rather that the police did not have to be deployed at Wapping. If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that Sir Kenneth Newman should withdraw all those police and allow the people who want to work at Wapping to be intimidated and prevented from doing so, certainly we on this side of the House would utterly reject that.
Does my right hon. Friend accept that what one might call development growth areas rather than natural growth areas, areas that have grown up on the edges of some of the towns and cities of Britain, present particular policing problems? Will my right hon. Friend consider setting up an inquiry, with chief constables, to consider this problem? The problem might best be served, not by police on foot, which is impractical, or in cars, which is unhelpful, but possibly on bicycles.
The bicycle is very important, as we saw recently at the party conference in Bournemouth. It is for chief constables to work that out. My hon. Friend is right. One of the factors that we take into account when looking at applications for increases in police forces is precisely the growth of such areas, where the population needing to be protected has increased.